FIELDBROOK/EUREKA – Suddenly, an alleged accomplice now dogs the jury’s reckoning in the Fieldbrook double murder case of Jason Michael Arreaga.
The putative accessory is Shavonne Hammers, 36, of Lucerne. Ironically, she was the prosecution’s lead witness three weeks ago and the first to incriminate Arreaga, 30, also of Lucerne, in Lake County.
Shavonne Hammers’ eleventh-hour emergence as a notional confederate was weighty enough that Superior Court Judge Marilyn B. Miles delivered an imperative to the jurors last Friday as she spelled out their instructions in reaching a verdict.
“Before you consider Shavonne Hammers’ testimony against the defendant, you must decide if she is an accomplice to the crime,” Miles read aloud in a formal statement from the bench. “Did she aid, participate [in], facilitate, promote, encourage or abet a criminal conspiracy?”
A person can qualify legally as an accomplice, the judge explained, even if (s)he does not face prosecution.
Deputy District Attorney Zachary Curtis granted Shavonne Hammers immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony against Arreaga, the one person who had helped her when she was thrown into the street by her boyfriend in Lucerne, made homeless a day or so before the murders.
At the time of the slayings in September 2014, Shavonne Hammers was the estranged wife of murder victim Harley Hammers Jr. and the ex-friend of his girlfriend, Angel Robin Tully, the second victim Arreaga allegedly shot to death in a three-way confrontation in the driveway of 4406 Fieldbrook Rd. The victims were 37; they and Shavonne had known one another since childhood in Humboldt County.
Arreaga, on the other hand, knew neither victim and, his lawyer contends, had not the slightest motive for killing them.
Shavonne Hammers’ unmistakable, undeniable motive, Public Defender Heidi Holmquist has argued from the beginning to the end of the trial, is history’s oldest: a scorned woman’s fury and jealousy at an adulterous betrayal by two of the people closest to her.
According to eyewitness testimony, Shavonne had threatened hours before the murders to embarrass Harley, who was living with Tully at 4415 Fieldbrook Rd. in his motor home, by asking him “what Angel tastes like.” She also raged at times that Tully had tattooed the names of the Hammers’ daughters on one of her forearms.
Concerning motive, whether Arreaga’s or that of Hammers, Judge Miles informed the jury that the prosecution need not prove it; the state must only prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt” based on direct and indirect evidence. But jurors are free to consider motive in reaching their verdict.
Curtis stands to lose his case against Arreaga if jurors decide the prosecution’s star witness is the more plausible suspect.
That possibility cropped up suddenly last week as the trial neared its close when Arreaga, against the advice of counsel, took the witness stand on his own behalf, a rare occurrence in murder trials. He proceeded to accuse his accuser, Shavonne Hammers, now a widow and a woman he heartily dislikes and fears, of the illicit purchase one or two weeks before the murders of the black market .380 caliber pistol linked to the killings.
There is no dispute over the weapon used; the paramount question is who used it.
Arreaga went on to finger Shavonne Hammers for the murder of her ex-husband and former friend Tully. The defendant claimed he stood watching the fatal encounter unfold at 4406 Fieldbrook Rd. in front of a shanty trailer belonging to Shavonne Hammers’ fellow meth addict and friend of 15 years, Angelique Eller.
Arreaga said he was blocking the trailer’s door to shield his teenage girlfriend inside, Carly Michaels, as Shavonne Hammers allegedly shot and killed her husband and his girlfriend next to their maroon Maxima. They had just pulled into Eller’s driveway in the second such confrontation on the fatal day of Sept. 3, 2014. The gunfire may have been the culmination of a feud among the three that in previous months had reached across two counties and spread to barbed exchanges on Facebook.
Alternatively, Curtis argues that Arreaga was the culprit: he shot Harley Hammers and Tully when they confronted him in a threatening manner with indeterminate objects in their hands. One of the objects may have been a yellow-handled axe, which Arreaga claims was brandished by Tully as she approached Eller’s trailer, not at him, but while demanding that Shavonne Hammers come out for a skirmish mano a mano.
Contrary to Curtis’s scenario, Arreaga testified, Tully’s target was Shavonne, not him, and she ignored him completely as she swept up toward the front door yelling, “I know you’re in there bitch, I’m going to fucking kill you! Come out!”
But Tully volte-faced back to the Maxima when she heard a well-known acquaintance, Jerry Bachus, confront Harley Hammers as he exited the driver’s side of the car. Bachus, another hardened addict, testified that he warned Hammers to leave immediately, saying, “This is neutral territory.”
At this point, according to Arreaga’s version, Shavonne Hammers hailed from the dilapidated trailer where she had been nursing a drug and alcohol hangover and headed toward the trio by the Maxima, screaming at the three as she neared the open passenger door of Arreaga’s Buick, “I can’t believe you put my fucking kids’ names on your fucking arm!”
Arreaga believed he heard Tully yell again, “Come on bitch, do something bitch!”
Then he heard gunshots, “like six or seven; there was [sic] three and then three and four.”
Predictably, Arreaga’s testimony sustained Holmquist’s argument that it was Shavonne who murdered the couple and that she decided to testify against Arreaga in exchange for immunity because she calculated he would not take the witness stand, that it was too risky from the legal point of view.
The trial resumes this week with Curtis’s final rebuttal. In his closing argument last Friday, he played multiple clips from Arreaga’s interview with county Sheriff investigators, reminding jurors of the defendant’s recalcitrant and ignominious behavior an hour or so after he was arrested, exhausted with shock and lack of sleep.
The deputy district attorney is counting on the jury weighing carefully Arreaga’s trustworthiness and credibility on the witness stand against the sweeping denials and lies he told when he was interrogated. He readily admitted all of his lies, saying that with two people dead, he might become the third.
Judge Miles informed the jury that Arreaga cannot be convicted based solely on his out-of-court statements. On the other hand, she said, such statements are subject to consideration as one indication of guilt.
If the jury finds any part of the Arreaga testimony truthful – testimony that by definition is self-serving and self-exculpatory – it may be his full-up account of how Shavonne Hammers allegedly procured the murder weapon and discharged 15 shots to test it before she brought it with her to Fieldbrook in Arreaga’s father’s Buick under the front passenger’s seat.
Arreaga recalled that Shavonne Hammers, constantly on meth, said she was “being threatened” by people, including her ex-husband, and was “extremely scared.” She importuned Arreaga to help her get a gun. He declined and gave her a Taser instead. Not content with that, she entreated his father, “who loves guns. He talked to me right afterwards and loaned her money for a gun, I believe $200. She was to pay him back. She wanted me to go with her to get it; I was pissed she went behind my back.”
All of his father’s guns had been stolen when he moved to Lucerne some years ago, Arreaga explained, and he was eager to obtain another one.
At his father’s insistence Arreaga, accompanied by Hammers and Arreaga’s drug go-between, a man named Casey, rode in the latter’s car to “some place in the middle of nowhere with a lot of dirt roads” in Lake County. In a hasty transaction, allegedly arranged by Hammers, they met briefly with an unidentified woman who “jumped in the car. The girl was extremely high and extremely paranoid.”
“How do you know that?” Holmquist asked.
“I’ve been around a lot of meth users,” Arreaga answered. He testified that, on disability himself with PTSD and financially responsible for his father, who is semi-invalided with rheumatoid arthritis, he was forced to resort to drug sales on a regular basis to make ends meet. For the past year or so Michaels, a runaway, had been living with them as well.
Arreaga said he saw the gun and confirmed on the witness stand that it was the same solid black .380 caliber pistol that police found in a lockbox underneath the hood of his car when he was arrested.
“Casey checked it out; it was pretty dirty and there was no holster,” as there was when the gun was confiscated later by police. Arreaga remembered it was wrapped in “a black, dirty bandanna. The girl [who sold it] went somewhere else” unspecified.
Shavonne “gave it to my dad,” Arreaga said. The understanding was that “if she didn’t pay him, he’d keep it in his room. I had no access to it.”
The week before departing for McKinleyville, Hammers wanted to test the pistol. She and Arreaga, his father, Casey and Casey’s girlfriend drove to an informal firing range in Mendocino National Forest. Hammers brought a box of 15 rounds with her “and shot them all,” according to Arreaga. He fired his father’s shotgun and 3030.
Cross-examined by Curtis, Arreaga denied firing the stolen .380 himself. Asked if firing guns exacerbated his PTSD, he answered, “I’ve been around firearms all my life, rifles mostly; firearms don’t bother my PTSD.”
Under pressure from his father and from Carly, who obtained meth from Hammers, Arreaga, driving under a suspended license, reluctantly transported Shavonne, Michaels and his dog to Fieldbrook on Sept. 2-3, 2014. Hammers had just been kicked out of the house by her then-boyfriend after a final row. Arreaga was to drop her with her belongings at her mother’s apartment in McKinleyville and promptly return to Lucerne.
It didn’t work out that way because Hammers insisted they keep looking for a place for her to stay after she tangled with her mother, brother and son over her extreme drug and alcohol abuse. She left her mother’s apartment in a huff, stranded.
Curtis pressed Arreaga to explain why at that point, given how fed up he was with Hammers’ erratic behavior and habitual spleen – at one point in his testimony he called her “a complete psychopath” – he didn’t just leave her in the street with her things to find her own place to bivouac.
Arreaga pleaded weariness and fatigue, not only physical exhaustion but also the emotional drain of running squabbles with girlfriend Michaels, as well as with Shavonne Hammers, about drugs and about whether to go back to Lucerne.
The two were upset with him because he had run out of the meth he had brought with him to sell in Humboldt.
Arreaga felt himself besieged by both women. As Holmquist stated in her psychologically astute and incisive closing argument, “It’s pretty clear that Shavonne had a hold on Carly and Carly had a hold on Jason.” One of the holds Shavonne Hammers had on Michaels was meth.
So it was Michaels who had given Shavonne the combination to his lockbox, Arreaga surmised.